Tag Archives: NBC

SITTING IN FOR JOHNNY…

4 Feb

75 years ago today, on Tuesday, February 4, 1936 comedian David Brenner was born in Philadelphia.

After a first career as a writer and producer of TV documentaries, and already in his 30s, Brenner left his job and gave himself one year to make it as a standup comedian. Just as that year was coming to a close David Brenner made an appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1971. From that day on he has had a career in comedy and he gives “The Tonight Show” all the credit.

In fact, according to Brenner, he appeared on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” 158 times, which Brenner says is the record for most appearances by any guest on the show. He also guest-hosted for Johnny more than 50 times.

Publicity photo for David Brenner in “Snip,” an NBC sitcom that never made it to the air.

Although Brenner made hundreds, perhaps thousands, of appearances on TV in the 1970s he has only had his own program once… almost twice. The photo above was from a David Brenner sitcom that was never broadcast. “Snip,” produced by James Komack, was on NBC’s fall schedule and set to premiere in September 1976, but it was abruptly canceled before a single episode aired.

Because “Snip” had an openly gay character, which would have been a first on TV, NBC apparently was concerned and decided not to break that barrier. One year later that distinction went to the character of Jodie Dallas (played by Billy Crystal) on ABC’s “Soap.”

If God Wanted us to Travel by David Brenner

David Brenner finally starred in his own program from September 1986 to May 1987, when he hosted a late night syndicated talk show. “Nightlife” was a 30-minute program with Billy Preston as musical director, but it could not find a niche and lasted just eight months.

David Brenner’s autograph inside If God Wanted us to Travel signed in 1990.

Brenner stopped touring for many years due to a custody battle involving his oldest son, but he is now back on the road.

Happy 75th David… I wish you many more. You made the 1970s a laugh riot for me and my friends.

SONUVAGUN

3 Feb

93 years ago today, on Sunday, February 3, 1918 Joseph Gottlieb was born in The Bronx, New York… but after growing up poor in South Philadelphia, he eventually became comedian Joey Bishop.

Perhaps best-known as a member of Frank Sinatra’s “Rat Pack” Bishop was first and foremost a nightclub comedian. After paying his dues in many cities he started making appearances on that new thing called television. 

Still photo, taken off my television in the 1970s, of Joey Bishop guest-hosting” The Tonight Show”

Joey Bishop could be seen on talk shows, game shows, variety shows and by the 1960s he was a fixture on television. He starred in one sitcom called “The Joey Bishop Show” from 1961 to 1965 on NBC and then CBS, but he then had another program, also called “The Joey Bishop Show.”

Joey Bishop is one of the many stars who took on Johnny Carson in the late night wars. From April 1967 to December 1969 his talk show, “The Joey Bishop Show” ran on ABC with Regis Philbin as his sidekick, and Johnny Mann as musical director. The show aired directly opposite Carson and never picked up steam, lasting just 2 ½ years.

Both before and after he competed against Johnny Carson he served as Johnny’s guest-host on “The Tonight Show” many times. In fact, by some accounts he guest-hosted more than 175 times (which some say is the record for any non-regular guest-host).

 Bishop also starred in many films, including the original “Ocean’s Eleven” with his “Rat Pack” pals.

He died in Oct 2007 at age 89… but on this date in TV history, February 3, 1918, Joey Bishop was born.

Thanks for the laughs you sonuvagun.

A TRUE NEWSMAN

3 Feb

71 years ago today, on Saturday, February 3, 1940 TV journalist Jim Hartz was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Hartz is best known for his work on NBC’s “Today Show” and then on PBS. But Jim Hartz started his career, in his hometown of Tulsa, in 1962 as a reporter for CBS affiliate KOTV. Hartz anchored the station’s “Sun Up” program, which was perhaps good training for the early morning hours of “Today.

Autographed photo of Jim Hartz from the 1970s.

Within two years Jim Hartz was named news director at KOTV, but he left a short time later for the big time in New York City. Hartz joined WNBC in 1964 where he remained a news anchor for ten years.

In April 1974 Hartz was picked to replace Frank McGee as co-host of “The Today Show” on the NBC network. He co-hosted with Barbara Walters, but when she left in 1976 to co-anchor “ABC Evening News” with Harry Reasoner, NBC replaced them both with Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley.

 Jim Hartz spent the next three years as an anchor at NBC’s WRC in Washington, DC before moving on to public television. On PBS Jim Hartz hosted shows like “Over Easy,” “Innovation” and “Asia Now.”

Hartz earned five Emmy Awards and two Ace Awards for excellence in cable television. He has also been inducted into the University of Tulsa Communication Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame, and the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.

Jim Hartz turns 71 today, February 3, 2011.

THE HEIR APPARENT

1 Feb

29 years ago tonight, on Monday, February 1, 1982 Late Night with David Letterman premiered on NBC

Late Night with David Letterman: The Book was edited by Merrill Markoe, then Dave’s longtime girlfriend. It was published by Villard Books in 1985.

David Letterman, a former weatherman from Indianapolis, had moved to Los Angeles in 1975 to try his hand at the big time. In just seven years he had succeeded in a major way. Of course, like most comedians of his era Letterman’s real goal was to host “The Tonight Show.” But “Late Night” seemed like a huge step toward eventually reaching that goal.

TV audiences might have remembered Dave’s last TV show, a morning show on NBC called “The David Letterman Show.” It was clear that NBC executives were impressed with his talent and wanted to find a spot to expose it. However, Dave’s sense of humor just didn’t seem to fit with daytime audiences and the show, though critically acclaimed lasted just 4 months.

The Letterman Wit by Bill Adler, who I interviewed about Letterman in 1994.

I personally had predicted greatness for Letterman years earlier. In November 1978 my family went to New Hampshire to celebrate my Grandmother’s 75th birthday during the week of Thanksgiving. While there I watched “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and saw a new standup comedian making his first appearance on the show… his name? David Letterman.

At the time, there was the usual speculation about who might replace Johnny Carson if he left “The Tonight Show.” All the entertainers mentioned as potential successors had their strong points and their drawbacks. When I saw David Letterman that night I saw several characteristics that made me think that someday he might be the one.

(Let me say that I am not ALWAYS a great judge of talent. In 1987, while scouting standup comedians for a video I was producing, I passed on Drew Carey.)

Late Night T-shirt given to me for my 30th birthday – a gift from Jim Murphy, now Senior Executive Producer of “Good Morning America.”

First, he was Midwestern. In the late 1970s network executives still liked white bread hosts from middle America – no one too ethnic. Letterman also looked good in a jacket and tie. Comedian David Brenner, who was considered a potential replacement for Carson, always wore an open collar, which was popularat the time.

The third and most basic requirement Letterman exuded was talent. The man killed in his first appearance. In fact, I still recall one of his bits from that night. He asked if anyone had seen last night’s episode of “The Waltons.” Letterman explained that in the episode, the family had saved up enough money to “get that thing removed from John-Boy’s cheek.”

The “Late Night with David Letterman” Book of Top Ten Lists was published by Pocket Books in 1990.

Succeeding Johnny Carson was years away, but the “king of late night” did take an obvious liking to the new kid and Letterman became a frequent guest on “Tonight.” He also became a frequent guest host. Once NBC signed him to a development deal they tried to find the right place for him. The morning timeslot hadn’t worked out, so they had an idea.

The Tomorrow Show” hosted by Tom Snyder had been following Carson’s show for eight years. Over the previous year NBC had tinkered with the show until it was an unrecognizable mess. The network decided to cancel “Tomorrow” and put David Letterman in that timeslot. What they actually did was to give Johnny Carson control of the one-hour following his “Tonight Show” and that’s why “Late Night with David Letterman” was produced by “Carson Productions.”

Johnny Carson with “his favorite,” David Letterman, on the cover of Rolling Stone’s “Comedy Issue” November 3, 1988.

Most readers of this blog know the rest. “Late Night” became a huge hit and Letterman became a huge star. And while he didn’t ascend to host “The Tonight Show,” we all know he was Carson’s choice for the job. And that, I think, is a nice consolation prize.

Late Night with David Letterman” broadcast more than 1800 new episodes and ran until June 25, 1993. That’s when Dave left NBC and brought his show to CBS to compete against new “Tonight” host Jay Leno.

Esquire Magazine, May 2000 – Cover Story: The Fall & Rise of Dave.

So “Late Night with David Letterman” lives on. Only now it’s called “Late Show with David Letterman.” Dave’s CBS show premiered on August 30, 1993 and continues today after more than 3500 episodes.

David Letterman is right when he says there will never be another Johnny Carson. But I think the closest we’ll ever come is the true heir apparent, David Letterman himself.

CRYSTAL MIRTH

30 Jan

29 years ago tonight, on Saturday, January 30, 1982 “The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour” premiered at 10:00pm on NBC.

Billy Crystal autographed photo sent to fans of “Soap” in the 1970s.

Although crystal is the traditional gift for a 15th wedding anniversary, this Crystal didn’t even make it to 15 weeks. “The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour” was canceled after just five broadcasts.

Like “Late Night with David Letterman,” which would premiere on NBC two nights later, “The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour” was Executive Produced by Jack Rollins, who managed both comedians at the time.

Unlike “Late Night with David Letterman” Crystal’s show would not last three decades.

The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour” was a traditional variety show with Crystal heading a group of comic performers and welcoming guest stars each week… but for just 5 weeks.

Of course, Billy Crystal has gone on to many great successes in the years since “The Billy Crystal Comedy Hour” was canceled. In addition to one breakout season on “Saturday Night Live” (1984-85), he starred in several classic films, several lousy films, and he became “Mr. Oscar” by hosting the Academy Awards eight times, more than any other host since Bob Hope.

Flier publicizing Billy Crystal’s appearance at N.Y.U. in April 1979 and autographed after the show. His friend Robin Williams was also in attendance.

Back in 1979, when I saw Billy Crystal perform at my college (his alma mater), my ticket cost me just $3.50. Some 25 years later, when I saw him perform some of the same material on Broadway, in “700 Sundays,” my ticket cost me an additional one- hundred dollars. As Crystal’s Buddy Young Jr. might have said, ‘I hope he gets a tumor in his eye.’

Autographed baseball sold in the lobby of the Broadhurst Theatre, where "700 Sundays" was performed.

Billy Crystal, who has been a successful stand-up comedian, impressionist, writer, actor, producer, director, host, philanthropist, and Yankees fan, premiered a short-lived variety show on this date in TV history. It may not have played out as he would have liked, but in a career full of triumphs and awards, it is just a blip.

GOODNIGHT, SWEET PRINZE

29 Jan

NBC publicity photo of Freddie Prinze, circa 1975.

34 years ago today, on Saturday, January 29, 1977 actor, comedian Freddie Prinze died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The young star of NBC’s “Chico and the Man” was just 22 years old.

The death certificate of Freddie Prinze.

It wasn’t supposed to end this way… or this soon. Three and a half years earlier Freddie Prinze was an unknown teenager working the comedy clubs of New York City. Then came an appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Producer James Komack was watching that night and asked Prinze to audition for a new sit-com called “Chico and the Man.”

Script for “Chico and the Man” episode that was taped on January 21, 1975. Once Prinze was cast as mechanic Chico Rodriguez he became a star – even before a single episode had been broadcast. Freddie Prinze moved to Los Angeles and, with veteran actor Jack Albertson, made “Chico and the ManNBC’s newest hit. The show premiered on Friday, September 13, 1974.

Freddie’s first L.A. apartment was in this building on N. Laurel Ave. Photo taken in 1989.

Over the next few years, as Freddie Prinze grew in popularity, he recorded a comedy album, starred in a TV movie, headlined in Las Vegas, and guest hosted “The Tonight Show.” But Prinze had a drug problem… and his marriage was on the rocks. In fact, as January 1977 rolled around Prinze was living apart from his wife at the Beverly Comstock Hotel.

Freddie’s last apartment was at the Beverly Comstock Hotel, where he shot himself. Photo taken in June 1979.

On January 20th Prinze performed at the Inaugural Gala for new President Jimmy Carter, but a week later his world came crashing down. While under the influence of narcotics and reportedly despondent, Freddie Prinze shot himself in the head on January 28, 1977 at 3:30am. He was taken to the UCLA Medical Center where he lingered for more than 33 hours.

At 1:00pm on Saturday, January 29, 1977 Freddie Prinze died from his injuries. He was 22 years old.

Freddie is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills.

Freddie Prinze’s death was ruled a suicide. Several years later his mother, Maria Pruetzel, went to court to argue that Prinze was not responsible for his actions due to the influence of narcotics. She was honest in admitting that part of her reason for doing so was that she needed the money from his life insurance policy. Prinze’s death was ruled accidental and Pruetzel was able to collect the money.

This writer paying his respects to Freddie Prinze in 1989.

From the day of Prinze’s first “Tonight Show” appearance to the day he died just 3 years and 2 months had passed. But, in that short time, the talented, lovable actor and comedian entertained us and, when he left us, millions grieved for him and pledged to remember him always. Freddie Prinze was just 22 years old.

GOOD NIGHT JOHNNY!

23 Jan

6 years ago today, on Sunday, January 23, 2005 Johnny Carson, the “King of Late Night” died of complications from emphysema. He was 79. But before he died, Johnny Carson put his stamp on “The Tonight Show” and the television industry.

Early publicity photo of Johnny Carson as host of “The Tonight Show”

Carson was born to Homer and Ruth Carson on October 23, 1925 in Corning, Iowa.  After several moves to other towns in Iowa, the Carsons settled in Norfolk, Nebraska, where Johnny grew up idolizing comedian Jack Benny. It’s also where 14-year old Johnny Carson started performing as a magician; The Great Carsoni.

Johnny Carson in the U.S. Navy.

Carson served in the Navy aboard the U.S.S. Pennsylvania during World War II. After the war Carson attended the University of Nebraska and began working on WOW radio in Omaha. By 1950 he had moved to Los Angeles and on to television, eventually getting hired as a writer for Red Skelton.

Red Skelton with one of his writers, Johnny Carson.

One night, during rehearsal for the show, Skelton was injured and they asked Carson to fill in for the star. In one of those “only in Hollywood” stories Johnny Carson shined and started moving up in the world of TV.

Tickets to see "Do You Trust Your Wife?" and “Who Do You Trust?”

After several other programs, Carson seemed to hit it big in 1957 as the host of the ABC game show “Do You Trust Your Wife?” (later called “Who Do You Trust?”) That’s also where he was first partnered with announcer Ed McMahon. But the big time really came 5 years later when Carson replaced the seemingly irreplaceable Jack Paar as host of NBC’s “Tonight.”

A photo personally autographed to this writer by Johnny Carson in the 1970s.

Johnny Carson began his run as host of “The Tonight Show” on October 1, 1962 and didn’t leave until May 22, 1992… almost 30 full years. He turned himself into a superstar and “The Tonight Show” into an institution.

Front gate at the Beverly Hills home Johnny shared with his third wife Joanna. Photo taken in June 1979.

Once Carson left “The Tonight Show” in 1992 he pretty much retired from public life. He died on this date in 2005 after suffering from emphysema.

FROM BEAUTIFUL DOWNTOWN BURBANK

22 Jan

43 years ago tonight, on Monday, January 22, 1968 “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” premiered on NBC and it was unlike anything on TV at the time. Most noticeably, the pace of the show was fast and frenetic. TV’s early comedy/variety shows had been rooted in vaudeville and had a more stage-bound presentation. With Executive Producer George Schlatter and comedy duo Dan Rowan and Dick Martin at its helm, “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” became a classic.

This LP, featuring audio of sketches from the show, was released later in 1968.

This crazy, hip comedy show replaced “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” on NBC’s schedule, and although it was a mid-season replacement it garnered big enough ratings to finish the season ranked 21st in the Nielsen ratings. It would become the number 1 show for the following two seasons, before dropping out if the top 10 for good. By May 1973 “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” was off the air. And you can “look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.”

It left America with plenty of catchphrases like; “You bet your bippy,” “sock it to me,” “verrrrrrry interesting,” and “look that up in your Funk and Wagnalls.” It also made a star out of Goldie Hawn.

43 years ago “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” shot into America’s consciousness like a rocket and then burned out a little more than 5 years later. Say Goodnight Dick.

A PRINZE FOR TONIGHT

19 Jan

35 years ago tonight, on Monday, January 19, 1976 Freddie Prinze guest hosted “The Tonight Show” for the first time. Just 2 years after first appearing on the show, Prinze was the star of NBC’s “Chico and the Man” and now, at age 21, sitting in for Johnny Carson.

Freddie Prinze with Johnny Carson on an earlier "Tonight Show" appearance, circa 1975.

After the monologue, Bob Hope made one of his patented walk-ons to congratulate Freddie on his first time hosting the show. But Freddie’s first actual guest was his dear friend Tony Orlando, who was plugging his guest spot on “Chico and the Man” which would air January 28th.

Publicity photo of Prinze in "Chico and the Man" that was sent to NBC stations.

The night’s second guest was actor Richard Dreyfuss, followed by singer Anne Murray who performed a song. Freddie’s fourth and final guest was Helen Gurley Brown, the publisher of Cosmopolitan magazine.

Freddie Prinze as Chico, in a photo taken later in 1976.

All in all, it was a successful night, especially when you consider the talented actor and comedian’s youth. Freddie Prinze would guest host “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” twice more. He might have gotten a chance to host additional times, but one year later Freddie Prinze was dead. 

Autograph signed by Freddie Prinze on September 27, 1974, after a taping of "The $25,000 Pyramid"

More on that tragic story next week.

FAREWELL DON KIRSHNER

18 Jan

Rock impresario Don Kirshner died of heart failure yesterday, January 17, in Boca Raton, Florida. He was 76.

Although many will think of Kirshner as strictly a music legend, some forget that his reach extended to television. His best-known series was “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” which ran in syndication from 1973 to 1981 and featured performances by some of rock & roll’s top acts. Kirshner’s wooden and nasally on-camera introductions were almost as entertaining as the bands. But did you know that Kirshner was also involved with the NBC series “The Monkees”?

“The Monkees” which ran from 1966-1968 on NBC.

He served as the original Music Supervisor for “The Monkees” and was responsible for several of their early hit records. But as the show grew in popularity the four actors who played the fake band pushed for songs that were more to their own liking. Eventually Kirshner stepped aside.

Another series that Kirshner produced, with Norman Lear, was the 1977 CBS sitcom “A Year at the Top” which starred Paul Shaffer (yes, THAT Paul Shaffer) and Greg Evigan. They played a music duo who sells their souls to the son of the devil (Gabriel Dell) in exchange for “a year at the top” of the charts. The show ran for 5 weeks, but both Shaffer and Evigan would find better partners to work with. Shaffer as musical director for David Letterman since 1982, and Evigan as the straight man to a chimp named Bear on NBC’s “B.J. and the Bear” from 1979 to 1981.

Don Kirshner was a New York City native born in the Bronx on April 17, 1934.

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